The word ‘Guru’ is one that I don’t like to use, because truth be told, we in the West don’t really understand it. It is a concept alien to our culture. Our use of the word in such phrases as ‘business guru’, ‘sex guru’, and ‘advertising guru’ demonstrates that. To us it often means something along the lines of ‘advanced teacher’.
In the East however, the word Guru has a much deeper meaning. It means ‘one who leads you to the light’. Wow! If you think about that, it’s quite a vague, almost open-ended meaning. To understand it fully, you need to think about it in terms of Eastern culture compared to Western culture.
In our Western culture we are taught the importance of independence. We are trained, educated, and conditioned to be independent consumers.
In the East, emphasis is on interdependence, and the spiritual foundation of Eastern culture means that every person is aware, from an early age, that evolution of consciousness is the purpose of life (as opposed to merely producing and buying ‘stuff’).
This promise of a deeper meaning in life is why our Western society is hungrily reaching out for Eastern spirituality. Many feel as I did as a child: starved of something essential to our development.
I grew up in suburban London in a middle class family, went to an expensive school, and literally felt throughout my childhood as if I was starving. I craved someone or something that could answer my inner yearning to make some sense out of life. However, the people who had any influence on this deeper aspect of myself were few and far between: a single school teacher who truly had a gleam in his eyes, and upon whose every wise and compassionate word I hung, stayed at the school only one year before the grey, dull, lifeless majority got the better of him. I remember the day he left. I felt as if a dagger had been plunged into my heart.
My Father was a spiritual man, but he was torn between his spiritual, creative inclination, and his business life. He never reconciled the two: I recall him telling me that he couldn’t tell any of his clients and employees about his lunchtime Tai Chi practice: he told them he was going to do some ‘exercise’ (acceptable) – in those days Tai Chi was for hippies.
So I was perhaps lucky that I had at least some taste of possibility, some guidance where others certainly had none. But it was not until I went to India, and that I realized that my childhood yearning was a mark of sanity, rather than flakey-ness!
As I sat on the steps of Trivandrum post office the day after I finished my yoga teacher training, I felt absolutely at home. At home in my body. At home in my self.
As I sat on those steps, full of love, silently chanting devotional songs of celebration and joy, an old man paused as he passed along the street below. He stood looking up at me as though he’d seen a ghost.
At that moment my contemplative bliss was broken as the old voice of doubt began to sing it’s song of fear:
“He’s probably a con man who thinks you’re a rich Westerner and wants your money”
So as he approached I held out my open palms, and stated clearly that I didn’t have any money to spare.
To my complete surprise he prostrated himself on the ground, face in the dirt, and touched my feet.
When he raised his head, he told me that he only wanted my blessing! I was a little dumbfounded. I asked him why he asked for my blessing and he answered:
“Because I see holiness in your eyes”
An old man prostrating himself before a young man. This was even stranger than the Indian boy who I’d made friends with a month earlier holding my hand as we walked along the beach – as if it was the most natural thing in the world – while I squirmed inwardly, feeling totally awkward.
But you see, the Indian culture (from which the word Guru comes) is almost the complete opposite of our Western culture. The foundation of our society is materialism, whereas theirs is grounded in spirituality.
So whereas here ‘respect your elders’ is absolute, there respect for your elders is tempered by respect for the more spiritually evolved (regardless of their age).
So I don’t like to use the word Guru. Most people don’t have a reference point for it here. Do you?
Tony Samara is a true guru though. A true guru wants nothing from you except your freedom. A true guru basks in the glory of absolute freedom, every cell of their body shining, every pore smiling, every word resonating, every thought a beacon of light.
A true guru is full of joy and celebration, and wants you to enjoy the party too! A true guru will not indulge you; will not feed your ego, or listen to your story, or play your games. He or she will remain utterly real and present, and illuminate all of your pretence. He will unmask you, and will not apologize for your discomfort.
My first meeting with Tony was about 4 years ago. I’d been a yoga teacher for quite some time, and experiences like the one outside the post office had helped reinforce my ego in an interesting way. I considered myself a teacher. I was holy. I was special!
So when I met Tony for the first time I wanted to make an impression. I’d heard that he was a great spiritual teacher, and subconsciously I wanted him to be aware when he met me that I was somebody too! Oh how this makes me laugh now thinking about it…
It’s difficult to describe in words the experience that I had, but I’ll try…
I was there on a Croatian Island in the hot summer sun to do a week-long retreat with Tony. My girlfriend Petra (now wife) had taken me, and she’d told me all about him. How during one meditation he’d somehow whispered (from a distance!) into her ear “concentrate on your heart” and she’d felt three loud ‘cracks’ in her heart, followed by tears of a deep emotional release from the past, mixed with boundless joy.
I had been anticipating this moment. So as Tony finally approached, walking towards us in his typical ‘shuffle’, arms hanging loosely by his sides, his body a perfect example of total relaxation, I became more tense.
He and Petra greeted each other, and I noticed the twinkle in his eyes, and felt his calm and absolute presence. I became more nervous.
Finally, he looked at me, and Petra introduced us. I stiffly held out my hand, and said something like:
“Hi, nice to meet a fellow Englishman”.
He looked down at my hand.
His gaze lingered on my hand, without his own hand being offered in return, for just a touch longer than would normally be considered polite, but my whole world simply stopped.
That short moment seemed to last an awfully long time! Time stretched out. I learned so much. Many lessons flooded my system. I realized how unconsciously I behaved. How many of my actions, thoughts, and words were simply games to mask my shyness, my lack of confidence, or my vulnerability.
The only reason I wanted to shake Tony’s hand at that moment was because I subconsciously felt that it would make us more ‘equal’. It might bring us together, and make me feel a little less nervous. It was an empty gesture.
Well, there’s no fooling someone who is totally present. They will see straight through you, and leave you feeling very silly. Which is exactly what happened to me then!
Tony finally offered me his hand, and as I gave a ‘good, firm handshake’, his hand was limp, like a dead fish. I felt ridiculous. I had in the past looked down on people that didn’t shake hands ‘properly’! But I couldn’t look down on this man – although he was surprisingly short in physical stature, his presence was huge! And his loose hand smiled, as his eyes smiled – with warmth, and humor, and humility. I felt like a child in front of him.
Tony spoke a little more with Petra and then excused himself, shuffling off again, completely relaxed, centered, and humble. He had not done anything. He had barely said anything to me. Simply by showing me what I was really doing, he had effortlessly taught me so much.
I feel tremendously lucky to have found a great teacher like Tony. He has helped me in many ways, many times (I’ll be writing more about that later), and I know that my development and evolution have been accelerated as a result. My yearning as a child is perhaps what brought me to him in the end. I refused to compromise. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew with absolute certainty that I would not become like the majority of my teachers – grey, dull, cynical.
I am sharing him with you not because I want you to make me feel better about myself by joining my ‘club’. I’m not trying to ‘convert’ anyone. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me anymore!
I am sharing this because I know there are many other people out there like me who truly yearn to be free. And because I know that people, especially teachers, like Tony Samara are very, very rare.
Do you yearn to be free? What are your feelings about the word Guru? Do you know Tony?! Please leave a comment…
You can read more about my experience of Tony Samara, and watch a stunningly beautiful 3 min. video with his voice here.
To read more about my experience in India prior to the events outside the post office, read here.
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